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NEW DELHI, 16 OCTOBER (UH). The Coast Guards of India and Japan co-hosted the 18th Heads of Asian Coast Guard Agencies Meeting (HACGAM) on 15-16 Oct 22 in New Delhi. The meeting was inaugurated by Hon’ble Defence Minister Shri Rajnath Singh on 15 Oct 22. The inaugural ceremony was attended by representatives of the Ministries of Defence, External Affairs and Home Affairs in addition to the diplomatic staff from the Embassies/ Missions of the participating countries. A total of 55 delegates from 16 member countries attended the event.

HACGAM is an apex-level forum facilitating the congregation of all the major Coast Guard Agencies of the Asian region. The process of cooperation amongst the Coast Guard agencies in Asia was initiated by Japan consequent to the capture of the pirated merchant vessel Alondra Rainbow by the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) in November 1999. Subsequently, a series of Regional Senior Experts Meetings of Coast Guard Agencies of Asia were held on combating piracy and armed robbery against ships. The 4th such meeting held in Pattaya, Thailand in Feb 2004 recommended conducting the meeting of the Heads of Coast Guard Agencies in Jun 2004. Accordingly, the first HACGAM was conducted in Tokyo, Japan in Jun 2004. However, the scope of discussions has been expanded to include cooperative and collaborative engagements with partner agencies domain of Maritime Law enforcement, Maritime Search & Rescue, Marine Environment Protection and Capacity Building. Presently, there are 29 member organisations from 22 countries (Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkiye, Vietnam) and one region                (Hong Kong –China) and 02 Associate Members namely ReCAAP ISC, Singapore and UNODC-GMCP.

While inaugurating the meeting, Shri Rajnath Singh, Hon’ble Defence Minister of India appreciated the role of Coast Guard Agencies in ensuring maritime safety and security. He stated that as maritime policing and law enforcement agencies, Coast Guard agencies bring a distinctive capability and functionality on the table. He stressed that oceanic space should be respected as a global common for the benefit of all humanity in an environmentally sustainable way.

“We stand for open, free, rule-based maritime borders in Indo-pacific, in which no nation, how-so-ever big, may be allowed to appropriate the global common or exclude others from its fair use. We are always ready and forthcoming to work with all the like-minded partner countries across various forums towards this endeavour,” Shri Rajnath Singh said.

The Raksha Mantri stated that the India’s shared vision of ‘SAGAR’ (Security and Growth of All in Region), Sustainable Development Goals and  ‘Rule Based Order at sea’ complement the focused Indian approach of inclusive growth and lasting collaboration in the Indo-Pacific region. He highlighted India’s focus towards blue economy and strongly advocated the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs and preserving the health of ocean ecosystem.

Director General VS Pathania, Director General Indian Coast Guard in his welcome address shared that the area of cooperation among the Coast Guard Agencies have graduated from anti-piracy and Search and Rescue to issues of marine oil and Hazardous Noxious Substance spill response, handling of unseaworthy, open registry vessels, Illegal Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUU), maritime terrorism, cyber security and management of maritime borders. The Director General noted that with increasing maritime traffic in Asia, the supporting infrastructure for effective maritime safety, security and environmentally sensitive regime could be evolved through cooperative approach between the maritime agencies. He highlighted the emergence of  the Indian Coast Guard as a significant contributor in regional cooperation  initiatives in the region.

The Plenary meeting of HACGAM members was conducted on 16 Oct 2022. Various agenda related to Coast Guards and similar agencies charter were discussed alongwith importance of enhancing cooperation and collaboration among HACGAM nations. The HACGAM members agencies released a Joint Statement on completion of 18th High Level Meeting appreciating India’s initiatives towards environment protection and clean seas and a call to all members to synergize efforts for prevention, protection and control of marine pollution.

This is the second such meeting of Heads of Coast Guards since 2012 held in India. The HACGAM is conducted every year and eighteen such meetings have been conducted till date.

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